University of Hertfordshire researchers join major new mental health study

21 January 2022

Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire are collaborating with colleagues across the East of England on a major new study, instigated by the lived experiences of a mental health service user.

Sarah Rae, a mental health service user from Cambridge, has brought together a nationally recognised team of researchers to develop a major new study, called MINDS. The NIHR funded project aims to improve the outcomes and experiences of those being discharged from mental health hospitals.

Sarah has previously experienced difficulties when discharged from mental health wards, and is determined to use her lived experience to improve services. She will now work as co-lead alongside researchers at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (HPFT), and leading academics from across the UK - including the University of Hertfordshire - on this £1million project.

Sarah explained: “I have had two long stay admissions. On the first occasion I was discharged at very short notice. During a more recent admission I became institutionalised after spending 8 months on the ward. I was terrified of going back into the community. This fear was made worse by the fact that staff did not try to understand my worries or offer any coping strategies. There was no collaborative discharge planning before leaving hospital. The knock-on effect on my well-being and recovery was huge.

“When I approached Corinna Hackmann and Jon Wilson at NSFT research they were both enthusiastic about my idea for a research project. They regarded my lived experience to be of equal value to their academic skills. We had a shared vision from the outset. They recognised how service users could benefit from research into how discharge processes could be improved.”

Around 50,000 people leave mental healthcare hospitals every year. However, a national survey from mental health charity Mind found that 40% of people leaving mental health hospitals have no plan in place to support them after they leave. Thanks to funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the research team will work with mental health service users and carers to develop a new support package for discharge.

The aim of MINDS is to combine the expertise of those who have accessed mental health services with that of clinicians, researchers, engineers, commissioners and mangers to develop solutions to the many complicated factors that can disrupt the positive experiences of those leaving hospital.

Julia Jones, Professor of Public Involvement and Health at the University of Hertfordshire, is one of the researchers on the project. She commented: “It is crucial to put the lived experience of those using mental health services at the heart of this type of research, to ensure we are creating practical solutions that can be implemented and make real difference to patients’ lives.

“Mental health care can be complex, and it is common for people to find themselves in a cycle of discharge and readmission – around one in five people discharged from acute mental healthcare in the English NHS are readmitted back to acute care within 6 months1. By bringing together the expertise of a range of academics and practitioners, we hope to develop more robust support packages to care for patients during and after their discharge”.

The idea is to adopt industry tools to understand and adapt the discharge process from the point of view of the people involved. This will include why discharges are sometimes not well planned and what people feel they need to stay well after leaving hospital. This ‘Engineering Better Care’ toolkit can be tailored to different situations.

“We are delighted that this systems approach, co-developed with systems engineers, health and care professionals, improvement experts and patient representatives can be applied to an important systems challenge such as discharge in mental health”, explained Professor John Clarkson, Director of the Cambridge Engineering Design Centre at the University of Cambridge.

For more information about the study, visit the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust website.

NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its work in low and middle income countries is principally funded through UK Aid from the UK government.

This study will work with University of Cambridge, Northumbria University, Kings College London, University of East Anglia (UEA), Anglia Ruskin University and University of Hertfordshire. The study will be led by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) along with partners East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT) and Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (HPFT).


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